CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: IMA art park is a grand slam

March 5, 2007

Lest we overlook it among the rash of crimes, stock-market gyrations and General Assembly shenanigans reported in the media recently, the Indianapolis Museum of Art deserves some major kudos.

Amid the chaos, the IMA announced the names of the 10 artists, artists' groups and architects who will create works for its Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park set to open in 2009.

It was a grand slam.

Unveiled in New York Feb. 27, the list includes individuals or collectives based in London, the Netherlands, Chile, Cuba, Germany, New York, San Francisco and Richmond, Va.

The eclectic, international mix of participants is just what the park needed to elevate its status and contribute in a meaningful way to Indianapolis' Cultural Tourism Initiative and quest to become a world-class, destination city.

Even before the announcement, the Fairbanks Art & Nature Park stood on its own as a significant national attraction. At a cost of $40 million and a size of 100 acres, the project will be the largest of its kind connected with a museum anywhere in the country.

The group of creative people tapped to contribute to the park's "content" will be the icing on the cake and the element that could propel the city to new heights of recognition on the world's art stage.

If nothing else, it will certainly be a must-see for all of us, for every U.S. tourist interested in art who comes through Indy, and for the foreign visitors who come here for the U.S. Grand Prix, but it has the potential to be so much more.

The museum's board and staff deserve our thanks for making a concerted effort to find a group of artists with such diverse backgrounds, from race and sex, to age and nationality. They deserve even more thanks for having the vision to launch the project to begin with.

From the get-go, it appears the IMA has made all the right moves.

First, it would be hard for anyone to argue for a better use of the acreage, which is adjacent to existing museum facilities and was given to IMA in 1972 by construction/engineering firm Huber Hunt & Nichols.

All along, the museum has sought community input and involvement concerning the park and its uses through public forums and brainstorming with multiple groups, including neighbors like Butler University and Christian Theological Seminary, and organizations like The Nature Conservancy and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

In 2004, after a two-year national search, the IMA chose nationally acclaimed architect Marlon Blackwell and landscape architect Edward Blake to design and landscape a visitors' center.

A historic Indiana bridge built in 1873 was moved from Montgomery County to connect the IMA's main campus with the new park, adding a distinctly Indiana element to the mix.

The museum organized an advisory committee of four internationally known leaders in the fields of art and architecture to help develop plans as they evolve. The IMA also has done its environmental homework, commissioning studies about the site's vegetation, wetlands, riverbank and other elements.

The work of the 10 artists and artist co-ops will complement New York environmental artist Mary Miss' existing design of the park's gateway-a striking lattice-like pedestrian bridge that spans 1,500 feet.

This city has succeeded to this point by thinking and dreaming big. With the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, the IMA has carried on that tradition.

Projects like this and the Indianapolis Cultural Trail reflect the out-of-the-box thinking our city needs to make it stand out from the crowd.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to ckatterjohn@ibj.com.
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